NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Vanderbilt took South Carolina's best shot, but Vandy and Andrew Ogilvy proved tough enough to stand unscathed at the end.
Both Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings and Carolina's Dave Odom said the Gamecocks played as well as they have all season, and Carolina led the Commodores by a point midway through the second half. But Ogilvy's 21 second-half points, and some clutch play from guards Alex Gordon and Jermaine Beal were took much for USC, as Vandy came away with an 80-73 victory at Memorial Gymnasium on Wednesday night in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
The trio stepped up on a night in which All-American candidate Shan Foster had his worst game of the season. Gordon hit a huge 3 to give the Commodores a five-point lead with 1:30 to play, and Beal and Ogilvy combined to go 6-6 from the free throw line in the game's final 35 seconds.
"I'm proud of our team. We survived Shan's first off-night in I-can't-remember-when," Stallings said. "[Gordon] hit a huge basket for us down the stretch there."
Foster scored just 13 points on four-of-11 shooting from the field. He was only two of nine from 3-point range, though the second 3 broke Ronnie McMahan's all-time school record of 296 career shots from long range.
The last of Gordon's three 3-pointers was the death knell for the Gamecocks. It answered after a 3 by Carolina's Dwayne Day and a lay-up by Devan Downey that had just cut what had been a 71-64 VU lead with 2:35 left to two.
Beal converted a pair of free throws with 35 seconds left, then two more with nine seconds left to seal the victory. In between, Ogilvy followed with a pair of his own with 17 seconds remaining after Sam Muldrow added a dunk to cut the VU lead to 76-71 with 19 seconds to play.
It wasn't the first time VU answered a Carolina run in the second half. After leading 39-30 earlier in the half, Carolina made a charge and led Vandy 56-55 with 10:27 to play. Gordon hit a 3 from the left side, then Ogilvy followed with the game's next six points on short shots inside. Alan Metcalfe ended the 12-2 spurt with a long 3 to put Vandy up 67-58.
Earlier, the Commodores took a 35-30 halftime lead when Beal hit a 3 from the right side as the horn sounded. VU led from the opening tip throughout the half with the exception of a brief 22-21 Carolina advantage when Day hit a 3 at 6:17.
Vandy mixed zone and man-to-man defenses effectively in the stanza, holding the Gamecocks to 32.4 percent shooting in the half as Downey (14 points), Zam Fredrick (11) and Day (5) accounted for all the Carolina offense in the half.
As it turned out, the trio would provide most of Carolina's offense on the evening, combining for 57 points. But the Commodores made them work—particularly Downey and Fredrick, who combined for 43 points on 43 shots.
"I thought defensively, we did a solid job. You look up and guys had 22 and 21 points, and you're inclined to think that the game got away from you a little bit, [but] they're taking 23 and 20 shots to get those points," Stallings said.
A sellout crowd of 14,325 saw Vanderbilt (16-0) join Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina and Washington State as the nation's only unbeaten teams. Gordon (13), Foster (13) and Beal (11) joined Ogilvy (25) as VU's double-figure scorers.
Odom has now lost four straight to Vandy spanning three seasons, and thinks this year's Commodore team is the best of those three.
"I think Kevin Stallings has... the makings of his best team. … It's not necessarily because they're 16-0, it's because his team plays very good basketball. They play team basketball. It's fun to watch them on tape if you don't have to play them," Odom said.
The Commodores now travel to face Kentucky in a nationally-televised game at Rupp Arena on Saturday. Vandy has won four straight over the Wildcats, including the last two at Rupp.